This article was originally written by Kathleen Goolsby and published on SandHill.com.
In a look forward and backward at software disruption, I asked 11 software executives their opinions on which of the following software giants was more disruptive during 2015 – Amazon, Apple, Dell, Google or Microsoft – and which company they predict will be most disruptive in 2016.
Many of their predictions for disruption in 2016 are based on what happened in 2015. The dominant view (six of the 11) held that Microsoft won the disrupter title in 2015. Feelings were also strong about AWS and a little less strong about Google. And then along came the Dell-EMC merger.
Dell as disrupter
“I believe that we’ll look back and see that the Dell/EMC merger was the most disruptive technology event in 2015, and that Dell will be the most disruptive company in 2016,” states James Malachowski, CEO and founder of NodePrime. Despite all the talk of the inevitability of the public cloud over the last year, Dell is betting $67 billion on the business value and strength of the on-premises data center. He predicts that “the trajectory of the public cloud is not as predictable as it seems, and the future compute paradigm will be much ‘foggier’ (distributed) than it is today.”
Joan Wrabetz, CTO for QualiSystems, disagrees with Malachowski’s opinion of Dell. She says we’ll “see little or nothing of interest from Dell as they try to digest EMC and VMware while struggling under a huge debt load.”
Microsoft as disrupter
Suresh Chandrasekaran, senior vice president at Denodo, states Microsoft was “very effective in realigning market power in 2015 – not because of any splashy announcement or moves, but in the focused way in which it built up and scaled its cloud business.”
The other interviewed executives that ranked Microsoft as the biggest disrupter in 2015 have similar views of Microsoft’s disruption being non-flashy but focused moves.
Avinash Lakshman, CEO of Hedvig, says none of the five giants listed “deserve extra credit.” But if he had to choose, he says “Microsoft was the boldest of these vendors – for doubling down in cloud and mobility in particular.”
Neil Jain, a partner with Waterstone Management Group, says, “While Microsoft isn’t always synonymous with disruption and innovation, the company made a number of moves over the past year that will change the way business workers (and to a lesser extent, consumers) will get stuff done for years to come.”
He cites Microsoft “unleashing a slew of enhancements” across its Office 365 platform including enablement of different platforms, Lync improvement / Skype integration, co-authoring documents in Word, PowerPoint and Excel and improved OneDrive offering. But Jain says, “Taken alone, these enhancements may not seem disruptive – especially as competitive solutions (e.g., Google Docs, Dropbox) offer some of the same capabilities.”
Sujatha Kashyap, VP of technology at Robin Systems, says, “The Microsoft story is noteworthy because it has largely succeeded at an image makeover that has eluded other blue-chip companies from the same era, including HP, IBM, Oracle, etc. Microsoft aggressively invested in more ‘youthful’ technologies – ranging from its acquisition of Minecraft to Project HoloLens – and aggressively stepped up to both Apple and Google in terms of product competitiveness and branding. The Surface Pro, Cortana and Bing have scored points against the established players, based on their own merits.”
AWS as disrupter
Darren Cunningham, VP of marketing at SnapLogic, states Microsoft’s “resurgence is the biggest news of 2015. But Amazon, and specifically AWS, has done the most to disrupt traditional approaches to delivering (and purchasing) software in the enterprise. From AWS Aurora and Redshift for database management and data warehousing, to AWS GovCloud, which brings public cloud options to US government agencies, AWS continues to set the cloud computing standard for enterprise IT organizations and independent software vendors (ISVs).”
on Bianchini, president and CEO at Avere Systems, also agrees the most disruptive software company in 2015 was Amazon. “They’re fundamentally changing the way people do business and are empowering organizations of all sizes to do things that just weren’t possible before. We see it happening with our customer base and at AWS re:Invent, and across so many industries. For example, one of our smaller life sciences customers, H3 Biomedicine, uses the compute power of Amazon EC2 to speed up its cancer research, so they don’t have to spend a fortune on on-premises infrastructure. A situation like this would have been inconceivable even just 10 years ago. Amazon has gone from bookseller to infrastructure provider for curing diseases.”
Andrew Atkinson, senior director of product marketing at Cloud Cruiser, says he gives the “disruptive nod for 2015 to Amazon because of the breakout of AWS revenues (and the magnitude of those revenues).” He adds that it’s clear that public cloud has “truly arrived and is not going to go away.”
Google as disrupter
Shirish Netke, president and CEO of Amberoon, says Google’s “move to open source its TensorFlow artificial intelligence engine” made it the most disruptive software company in 2015. “I believe that the success and failure of such open source initiatives are a matter of timing and maturity of the ecosystem,” says Netke. “There are several players in this ecosystem including hardware and software companies that can contribute to innovation around machine learning with the potential for far-reaching consequences for a lot of businesses.”
Joan Wrabetz at QualiSystems also believes Google was the most disruptive company in 2015, specifically for its big push with the Google Cloud Platform, joining the OpenStack consortium and adoption of Docker containers and developing Kubernetes for container management.
She differentiates actions of Google and Amazon in the way Google started in 2015 “talking publicly about what they are doing internally to develop more capabilities in their cloud. This is something that is markedly missing from Amazon, though I think that Amazon is also quite disruptive in their inexorable continuous additions of capability to AWS.”
Disrupters in 2016?
Among the executives we interviewed, eight wagered predictions for 2016 disruption, and three of them are betting on Google for the most disruption. Most of the seven believe the cloud will be the battleground.
Ron Bianchini at Avere Systems predicts that “Google will surprise everybody in 2016. They’re going to capture a lot of enterprise IT business – not just with Google Cloud Platform, but also with their infrastructure. It’s an absolute powerhouse. A lot of people don’t realize that Google purchased a lot of the dark fiber available in the United States. That means their network is extremely fast, even at huge distances. And after all, isn’t that the point of the cloud? If people can’t access their data fast enough, then it’s all for nothing.”
Darren Cunningham at SnapLogic says he wouldn’t count Google or Amazon out as the mega-vendor disrupter in 2016. “Either way, it’s going to be a multi-cloud, hybrid world for the foreseeable future. How well IT organizations and lines of business can adopt, integrate and deliver value from the new SMACT stack (social, mobile, analytics, cloud, things), will determine which will be the most disruptive.
Andrew Atkinson at Cloud Cruiser says he expects to “see more of Google and its Compute Engine in 2016. They will likely attack AWS with lower-cost offerings; however, it will take some time to catch up with the AWS market lead.” Even so, Atkinson thinks it’s “anyone’s game in 2016,” and says he can’t help thinking that it might be Microsoft’s turn to shake things up in the cloud.
Neil Jain at Waterstone Management Group also believes we can expect more disruption to come “in 2016 and beyond” from Microsoft, given its installed Office user base, increasing penetration of Office 365 and renewed corporate focus.
Two of the executives interviewed believe true disruption is occurring in companies other than Amazon, Apple, Dell, Google and Microsoft. Avinash Lakshman at Hedvig says each of these companies did great things and advanced and grew their business in 2015, but he considers their improvements “incremental at best. None of these companies did anything in 2015 that was fundamentally new. True disruption is occurring in software-defined infrastructure, Internet of Things and microservices.”
Sujatha Kashyap at Robin Systems says her pick for the biggest disrupter is Docker “in terms of the seismic effect it is having on a very fundamental facet of IT.”
What about Apple?
Mike Rozlog, CEO at dbase, believes Microsoft will start to beat Apple again in 2016. “Microsoft has done some fairly snazzy moves over the past two years,” he says, especially with the Internet of Things (IoT), Windows 10, Xbox One and strategic partnerships.
“I will concede that Apple has been on a roll and the numbers they are posting are huge,” Rozlog adds. “But I’m reminded of the middle to late 1980s and Apple stopped innovating and had proprietary systems that did not always communicate to the rest of the world. Look at what Apple is doing now with many of the products they bring to market. They are setting the standard, but how long will it last? We can use history as our guide: proprietary solutions win initially, but open standards ultimately win over time because they are not closed ecosystems so there are more possible sales to be had than in a closed market.”
Rozlog also comments that Apple’s part in the IoT movement so far appears to be limited whereas Microsoft’s Windows 10 IoT approach with programming on alternative devices like Raspberry Pi and Arduino DragonBoard brings new devices online with familiar coding approaches to deliver new solutions to a brand new breed of developers.
Apple in 2015 also disappointed Wrabetz. She comments, “Apple, please surprise me in 2016!”